If you’re not a socialist by the age of twenty,
you have no heart,
but if you’re not a conservative by the age of forty,
you have no brain.
The Capricorn goat is no ordinary billy-goat munching grass in the pasture. Look closely at the symbol for this most mysterious of the earthly signs, and you will see that he has a tail, a kind of cross between a fish and a serpent. The goat who climbs the awesome mountain of worldly success and material achievement also has another entirely different and usually hidden side to his nature. People who think that Capricorn can be summed up by mundane ambition are sadly mistaken. If we look at ancient symbolism, we find that the serpent is one of the oldest representations for instinctual wisdom and the secrets of the earth itself. And the fish is also a creature that swims in the depths of the unknown waters of the psyche. Our mountain goat – hard-working, plodding, cautious, materialistic, shrewd, ambitious – is also, in his secret heart, a kind of magician, a seeker after mysteries. To manipulate and organize the stuff of the world is no mean feat, and takes more than just patience. Whichever realm Capricorn achieves in – the inner or the outer – he applies the same principles to it, and those principles can be summed up in one word: mastery.
It isn’t easy to get to know a Capricorn. For one thing, he’s usually learned by the tender age of about three that you let the other guy show his cards first, and that sometimes it’s necessary to keep an ace or two up your sleeve. There is a curious thing about Capricorn children; sometimes you can look into their eyes and be startled by the little old man peeping out from the childish face. Many Capricorns follow the classical goat’s pattern of having to carry responsibility or hardship very early in life. The goat doesn’t take kindly to having his secrets probed too quickly. He must first know exactly where he stands, and exactly who you are, and exactly what you want, before he is willing to show his hand. Suspicious? Yes, you might say that. Suspicion is a natural propensity with Capricorn; sometimes it goes the wrong way and becomes profound mistrust of life and people, but the better face of it is caution and realism. Capricorns learn from childhood on – and childhood for them is often no childhood at all, but a too-early initiation into the hard facts of life – that one should always check one’s capital and assess one’s possible losses before entering any deal. And anything to Capricorn is a kind of a deal, even when his motives are the noblest and most altruistic ones. Remember that the keynote of all the earth signs is realism.
This is, in a way, the sign of the ulterior motive. It’s also a sign of immense subtlety: never imagine you’ve worked out all his motives, because there’s always one you haven’t thought of. Nothing is ever done by a Capricorn without a purpose. All that canny waiting and assessing, hard work and labour, are always directed toward an end. And you don’t always see the goat showing his goal on his sleeve like any Sagittarian, or talking about it like Gemini. Often he’ll play the humble servant, the one who has no ambitions, who only seeks to help, while he waits and assesses and plans. But there’s no time for wasted time with Capricorn, no space for useless leisure and play. Serious? Yes, you might say that about Capricorn too. His wit is often of the ironic kind, full of a sense of life’s incongruities, rather than the broad slapstick of some of the other signs. That ironic wit is part of Capricorn’s underplayed charm. But to most goats, life is a serious business, because it has to be mastered if you want to survive.
Survival is another key theme for Capricorn. To the goat, the world isn’t always a friendly, bountiful place. It’s as if his antennae are always plugged into what might go wrong, rather than what might go right. As J.D. Smith says, ‘The world is nothing but a vast, concerted attempt to catch you with your pants down.’
Nothing is ever taken for granted by the goat, least of all luck, which to Capricorn is a highly untrustworthy and often nonexistent commodity. He’d rather replace luck with good, solid hard work, unlike his fire sign cousins. And goals, of course, are another keynote to our perplexing goat. Without goals, Capricorn slides back-end first down that steep mountain path and lands with a rude bump in a big, black depression. Since the world isn’t basically a friendly place for him, his goals give him his sense of meaning, and achievement to him is what romance is to the fiery signs. Besides, Capricorn will be the first to tell you, romance is all very well, but it isn’t very permanent, and it doesn’t put a roof over your head. Achievement can outlast your lifetime, and often comes in the form of good, hard cash.
Let’s consider Saturn for a moment, Capricorn’s planetary ruler. He’s got a peculiar reputation in astrology, since he’s always been considered the symbol of limitation and discipline. Also of isolation and loneliness. In mythology Saturn is one of the Titans, the earth gods, children of the great Earth Goddess Gaia. Earthy indeed: there isn’t any greater pragmatist than Capricorn. Saturn is also often portrayed as a ruthless figure in mythology, who will stop at nothing – even his own father’s destruction – to seize power. Ruthlessness may often be seen in the goat, and the field of politics swarms with Capricorns. But it’s always a necessary ruthlessness, and rarely stems from a wanton malice or cruelty. Power, too, is attractive to many Capricorns, both in the world and in their personal lives. This in fact is one of the goat’s biggest problems in human relationships: he finds it immensely difficult to relinquish control. Male or female, Capricorn must always hold the reins. He’s downright terrified of what might happen if he loses control – not only of the situation outside him, but of himself as well. You might guess from this that Capricorn isn’t likely to be the great gambler in the sphere of the passions. You’d be quite right. He’s more known for having the wit to choose the conductor over the second violin.
Yet in Roman mythology, Saturn’s rulership over the world coincides with the Golden Age of man. Vines bear abundant fruit, rivers flow sweet, the sky is blue and cloudless, the earth yields its riches, and the children of men no longer have to labour by the sweat of their brows. In some ways the earth signs have made peace with the world, and the world, pleased to be recognized as something other than a grubby, sleazy and unspiritual cesspit (we’re taught, after all, that it’s pretty hard for rich men to enter heaven), will often show a kind face in reward for the long labour which the earth signs are willing to expend. And you often find that Capricorn, once his paid his worldly dues to the ferryman and accomplished something in the way of success or skill, will settle back and begin to develop the deeper, more profound side of his nature. Capricorn, far from being a ruthless materialist, is a reflective and often deeply introverted soul who knows that he’ll never have the freedom to pursue his love of the mysteries without first learning to live in the world. Visionary and mystical he isn’t; the qualities of faith in the intangible are hard for Capricorn to muster. But he’s often drawn to the occult, which involves learning the laws of the energies that govern life. That’s a very different path.
Peculiar people, these Capricorns. With a powerful and faithful ruler like Saturn, it’s no wonder they’re difficult to know. There’s another strange paradox, too, in Capricorn: the conflict between society and individual will. Many Capricorns are unusually sensitive to the opinions and values of the world, and pay a lot of attention to things like good credentials and acceptable training. The right clothes are important – never too flashy, but always good quality, the sort of thing that’s understated and always in impeccable taste. The right neighbourhood is important, the right schools for the children, the right social image. Capricorns often have a remarkable skill at appearing to be the pillars of society, and although in youth they are rebellious and iconoclastic as any young person can be (remember that Capricorn is interested in the world, and often in changing it) they usually become increasingly conservative as they grow older. It was most probably a Capricorn who said, ‘If you’re not a socialist by the age of twenty then you have no heart; but if you’re not a conservative by the age of forty, then you have no brain.’ You’ll also often hear the famous, ‘What will people think….’ Out of Capricornian mouths, for the goat is often unduly concerned with not being noticed within society’s protective embrace. Sometimes Capricorn can be downright crushing with his insistence on obeying the silent dictates of what is right and appropriate. Yet deep within, he’s a fierce individualist, and his game with society is usually yet another of his immensely subtle methods of making sure that the world around him doesn’t disturb him while he works out his own particular destiny. It’s based on the principle of rendering unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s, and rendering unto oneself what’s yours.
The pattern of Capricorn’s journey usually divides his life into two distinct halves. Often in the first half – which includes that frequently restrictive or burdensome childhood – the goal is frustrated or thwarted by some responsibility, and is in a sense at the mercy of society or of his tasks and responsibilities. Hardship – inner or outer – seems to be part of Capricorn’s training in the school of life, and if life doesn’t offer it to him then he’ll take it himself. You often see Capricorn’s entering a kind of voluntary bondage in the early part of life, as though they actually wanted to experience this term of frustration. It might be taking care of ill or ageing parents, or working at a job they dislike intensely, or embroiling themselves in a restrictive marriage. Whatever the nature is of the restriction, there is a curious kind of psychological hair shirt which Capricorn dons for a time. In medieval mysticism, the hair shirt symbolized the individual’s way of purifying himself of his carnal sins in order to prepare him for the experience of God. Capricorn’s symbolic hair shirt is a kind of perpetual self-punishment or self-imposed labour. Try to get him to enjoy himself and he’ll give you a thousand excuses why his responsibilities won’t permit it. And like the British officer of the old school, he’s convinced that what tastes bad must be good for you. No allowances made for luxury or sybaritic indulgence. He can show an ascetic streak even when there’s lots of money around to be enjoyed. He’s more likely to horde it and live as though he didn’t have it, then spend freely like the Leo or the Libra on beauty and pleasure.
But those first thirty years of training serve a purpose. Even when it’s happening at a deep, unconscious level, Capricorn is planning his ultimate destiny. He may be a nobody, someone who has to take orders from others, or work at things he detests which offer no challenge to his real capabilities. But watch him when that term has passed and he’s released from his self-imposed prison. All the while a powerful determination and ambition have been breeding in him, and an immense strength of will. It might be a worldly goal of envisions – to run his own business, to make enough money to buy a piece of land, or whatever. It might be ambition in a creative sense – to develop a formidable skill as a painter, a writer, a musician. It might be an inner ambition – self-understanding, or something more occult. You can see this side of Capricorn in such people as Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti. But whatever the goal is, those first years of life have developed a steely determination in our goat, and although he may be a little late in getting on the road, once he gets moving nothing is going to get in his way, no matter how many setbacks and obstacles confront him. Capricorn is very tenacious. After all that work, he’s not going to just dump the project because the road’s a little rocky. If you want to bet money on someone succeeding in life, bet it on a Capricorn. It’s not that there aren’t any Capricorns who fail. Lots do. But the Capricorn who is really expressing his basic nature is a sure winner. It may take him seventy years, so don’t expect it in a hurry. But he’ll get there.
Work and success aren’t the whole picture to Capricorn. Because he’s very concerned with tradition and structure, his family life is also often highly important. Structure is yet another keynote for the sign, and marriage and family commitments are often taken with great seriousness and responsibility. Capricorns don’t like to break promises, they like to be thought responsible, and it’s important to their self-image to have the world see them that way. The idea of leaving a marriage, or offending the family, is extremely painful to Capricorn; he’ll often endure a marriage that has gone loveless for many years because his sense of commitment to the structure and security is so strong. This trait is usually more typical of the older Capricorn, since most sun signs don’t really show their colours until around thirty and Capricorns even later. But Capricorn can carry the duty bit so far that he makes his own life a living hell and sometimes the lives of the people around him. Duty is a two-edged sword. And guilt often plagues our goat; vague guilt which he can’t always pin down, but which makes him take up responsibilities that others should be handling. Many Capricorns willingly pick up the threads other signs responsible for keeping the world turning on its axis, and feel horribly guilty if they don’t step in. It might just stop spinning if they do. It’s hard to pry a Capricorn away from his guilt, because it makes him feel he’s contributing something. The trouble is, it often leads other people to lean on him and take advantage of him, which only increases his sense of suspicion and his mistrust of others’ motives. And he rarely realizes that it’s his own doing.
Capricorn’s real place is out on the world’s stage, moving things in the environment – little or small – so that he leaves the place a little more organized than it was when he found it. His gifts lie in the realm of organization and control, discipline and initiation of changes within already existing structures. He’s often more of an idealist than you’d expect, in that he may have a vision of how to improve the world, or the small corner of the world he inhabits. Mystical, he isn’t, and his ideals are always attainable ones. He makes sure of that, and also usually makes sure he has the resources and the skills to achieve them in his lifetime. He won’t sit idly by and let others bring to birth his vision; he hates to delegate responsibility, and usually believes he must do it himself. It’s usually only in maturity that he discovers it’s okay to relax occasionally and enjoy the fruits of his labours. Sometimes he has to be prodded by an infuriated wife or lover, or a weeping child, to take a little holiday and let himself be sloppy and human. But in his heart he’s a builder, and often a selfless one, building for others with his immense skills and power of will. It may take you a while to get to know him. But beneath the often overly conventional garb he’s seen a lot of life, and hopefully a lot of the funnier side of it too. In kabbalistic thought the symbol of Saturn was equated with understanding – profound, rich wisdom based on real experience rather than theories and philosophies. It’s worth a little time and effort to be able to tap that vein of gold.